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Former Island mayor retools priorities with construction project

Fresh air a benefit and satisfaction results from building eight-unit housing complex in Chemainus
Colourful fronts of each unit mark Jon Lefebure’s project, The Cottages On Willow. (Photo by Don Bodger)

There is life after losing an election.

For former North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, the change from municipal politics back to his profession in construction has literally been a breath of fresh air.

Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump may not see any light at the end of the tunnel beyond his office, but Lefebure has clearly reaped the benefits of getting out from behind the desk and into the trenches, as it were, of working on his Cottages On Willow housing project.

Lefebure lost a very close election to Al Siebring in 2018, but didn’t dwell on it or demand a recount or fail to concede defeat while Trump continually mopes despite a far wider gap in votes that couldn’t possibly be overturned.

Lefebure, 69, immediately focused his energy in a different direction with Cottages On Willow, eight units that have added a different dimension and a Caribbean beach-style look to housing in Chemainus that may become the wave of the future.

“It was an awful lot of hard work,” he conceded. “I’m a lot healthier now than when I was in the office. I was sitting too much.

“Although it was tough work, it was still far better for my health than being in an office and my state of mind. There were things I could solve immediately.”

That’s seldom the case in municipal politics when it can take months – even many years – to resolve an issue.

Lefebure cites affordable housing as a prime example from his time in office.

Related story: Lefebure rebuilds his previous life in construction

“We didn’t actually build any,” he indicated. “Two years out of office and we’ve actually been able to build some.”

Seven tenants moved into their completed Cottages On Willow units on Nov. 1 and another on Dec. 1. There were actually seven total units in the original plan, but an eighth was built during a reconfiguration of the project.

Seven units are almost exactly 600 square feet and the other came in a few feet under.

Lefebure did the bulk of the work himself, but had help from brother Todd and son Sean along the way plus the required contractors.

“A large company would have got this done in half to two-thirds of the time,” Lefebure confided. “But we were able to do a better job of making sure everything flowed in sequence.”

Overall, the timing was perfect for his transition back into construction, but it took a while during the early part of 2019 to complete the preliminary work first.

The old house at 9833 Willow St. was moved in the first week of March after a nearly two-month process. Building permits were finally in place by June last year.

“Between February and June, we were working on getting our permits and getting the old house out of here,” Lefebure indicated.

“We ended up starting later than I normally would in a year.”

Related story: Two-month process for Chemainus house move

Machines digging the hole for the foundation uncovered blue clay, resulting in a considerable extra cost and a delay before the actual construction could begin.

Excavators dug out two feet of material and filled with two feet of rock.

“It seems like a million details you have to sort out along the way,” Lefebure conceded.

Among the situations that arose resulted in the creation of more housing space in the building.

“We moved the garbage containment outside and put the eighth unit in here and it worked out great,” Lefebure noted.

Working on the front sidewalk was another source of extra work.

“I had to dig out a lot of poor soil and back fill a lot,” Lefebure explained.

Duncan Paving put the finishing touches on a beautiful sidewalk as well as the paved parking lot and laneway.

“The one concern which seems to be the eternal Chemainus concern is parking,” Lefebure conceded.

Some residents don’t have vehicles because the complex is so centrally located to all the amenities, but “we’ve got room for parking and visitor parking,” Lefebure assured.

The building itself had several cosmetic alterations from the original design.

“A lot of little things have changed,” Lefebure indicated.

As an example, “I did the obscure glass instead of pickets so the railings don’t look quite the same,” he added.

Working close to street level with numerous passers-by offering insight proved interesting.

“We had a great reaction to the colours,” Lefebure pointed out.

“Working here every day we’d get a lot of comments. Out of the hundreds and hundreds, two people said they didn’t like it.”

It was also tough for Lefebure to get much work done at times. “Some people would talk for a half hour if you let them,” he chuckled. “The community was incredibly supportive.”

Selecting the tenants was an involved process, with much more demand than supply.

“A month and a half before Nov. 1 we had an open house,” Lefebure explained. “By that time I had a list of about 50 people who had expressed interest at one time or another.”

A short list was made, candidates were interviewed and needs discussed, with a wait list also compiled.

With four lower and four upper units, some units were better suited to prospective tenants than others depending on mobility issues.

“As we vetted them and checked their references, we were able to fit them in where they needed to be,” said Lefebure.

He conceded it was “very satisfying” to reach the conclusion stage. Looking back, there were many foul weather days for working in the elements.

“You forget those days and there’s all those good days working in the sun and the fresh air – so many good days,” Lefebure summarized.

He doesn’t have any other immediate projects upcoming.

“I do have a 30-year-old duplex I built when we moved here. I’ve got some major work to do on that.”

And, of course, as a landlord at Cottages On Willow, there will always be matters requiring his attention.

But his primary focus is going be taking out the boat during those fair weather days in the spring and summer of 2021 with wife Marlene to make up for all the lack of recreation time while working on this project and keeping his marriage intact.

Jon Lefebure checks out the back of The Cottages On Willow that contains three more colourful rental units. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Jon Lefebure surveys the inside of one of the Cottages On Willow units where a tenant is still in the process of moving in. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Landscaping and all the finishing touches came together well for Jon Lefebure at the Cottages On Willow. (Photo by Don Bodger)
A reconfiguration actually resulted in the addition of an eighth unit at Jon Lefebure’s Cottages On Willow that wasn’t in the original plans. (Photo by Don Bodger)
The eight units of The Cottages On Willow are now all occupied. (Photo by Don Bodger)
The Cottages on Willow just before the first tenants moved in. (Photo by Don Bodger)